When it comes to Japanese cinema during the '50s and '60s, there were many samurai films produced but with "Sambiki no Samurai" (Three Outlaw Samurai), it was a national sensation on television.
Airing on Japan's Fuji TV from 1963 through 1969, the drama series achieved a high rating of 42%. In Japan, anything over 25% is fantastic and not only did the studio Shochiku have a hot series, the three actors Tetsuro Tanba, Isamu Nagato and Mikijiro Hira became the most popular actors because of the TV series.
And with the success of the first season, Shochiku decided to create a jidaigeki film based on the characters of the TV series and "Sambiki no Samurai" (Three Outlaw Samurai) and give Hideo Gosha the opportunity to direct his first film.
And in 1964, "Three Outlaw Samurai" was released in theaters and would become a classic samurai film in Japan which would later inspire a manga series and TV sequels that would air on TV Asahi last from 1987 through 1995 (featuring newer characters) and a final "goodbye" drama series which aired from Oct.-Dec. 1999 which would feature the return of original actor, Tetsuro Tanba.
And now, "Three Outlaw Samurai" makes its first Blu-ray and DVD appearance in North America courtesy of the Criterion Collection.
The film is the second Gosha film to be released by the Criterion Collection, the first release on DVD was Gosha's second film (and his most popular film in the west), "Sword of the Beast" (1965).
"Three Outlaw Samurai" is presented in black and white (2:35:1 aspect ratio). This 1964 film looks absolutely fantastic on Blu-ray. Not only is there a good amount of grain, there is also a good amount of detail. May it be the dirty floors of the mill or its wooden surroundings.
Closeups of the character show the sweat, grime and dirt on their faces, contrast is excellent, black levels are deep and white and gray levels are also very good. I don't think I've seen any sort of video problems or damage while watching this film, maybe a few instances of softness but other than that, this film looks fantastic. No banding, no artifacts, no problems that stuck out.
According to the Criterion Collection, the new high-definition transfer was created on a Spirit Datacine from a 35 mm print struck from the original negative. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter and flicker were manually removed using MTI's DRS and Pixel Farm's PFClean, while Omage Systems DVNR was used for a small dirt, grain and noise reduction.
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
"Three Outlaw Samurai" is presented in Japanese monaural LPCM 1.0. The dialogue is clear and I heard no hissing, crackles or any audio problems during my viewing.
According to the Criterion Collection, the monaural soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from a 35 mm optical soundtrack print. Clicks, thumps, hiss and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD. Crackle was attenuated using AudioCube's integrated workstation.
"Three Outlaw Samurai - The Criterion Collection #596' on Blu-ray comes with a trailer.
"Three Outlaw Samurai - The Criterion Collection #596' comes with an 18-page booklet with the essay "The Disloyal Bunch" by New York Magazine writer Bilge Ebiri.
Having watched many jidageki/chambara films and dramas from Japan, this was my first time watching Hideo Gosha's "Three Outlaw Samurai". And I absolutely loved it!
Sure, there is a banality when it comes to ronin who come into help the poor from evil bandits or warlords, but what I enjoyed about this film was its enjoyable story, its characters and also its swordfighting action!
For one, you have your calm, cool and collected samurai Sakon Shiba (starring legendary actor Tetsuro Tanba) and then you have someone different with Isamu Nagato's Kyojuro Sakura, a man who can fight but also a man with a conscience. A man who helps bring humor to the film because of his demeanor. And then you have the playboy swordsman Einosuke Kikyo (played by Mikijiro Hira), doesn't want to sully his sword with the blood with peasants but yet has no qualms about having sexual encounters with a local prostitute.
While the film is quite simple when compared to Akira Kurosawa's jidaigeki films, bare in mind that "Three Outlaw Samurai" is Hideo Gosha's filmmaking debut. He obviously had magnificent company with three amazing actors who were extremely popular from the TV show, the benefit of having good writers, cinematographer and a crew. May it be the swordfight choreography, the actors performances to its sociopolitical storyline, it's a fantastic debut for Hideo Gosha and an important film that would help ignite a career with many fantastic films in his oeuvre.
As for the Blu-ray release, "Three Outlaw Samurai" looks fantastic on Blu! Wonderful contrast, picture quality looked amazing with no blemishes or problematic scenes. If anything, I wish there were more special features outside of the included trailer. I suppose that I have been spoiled by Criterion Collection releases that I tend to expect a lot in terms of special feature content but it does explain why the price is cheaper compared to other Criterion Blu-ray and DVD's.
Overall, if you are in the mood for a wonderful samurai film that isn't too deep, easily accessible and has a lot of swordfighting action, definitely give "Three Outlaw Samurai" a a chance. Definitely recommended!